Sunday, January 15, 2006

Culture Clash Moves AmeriCCa

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Ric Salinas, Herbert Sigüenza and Richard Montoyo of Culture Clash
Photo by Tom Berne

Culture Clash in AmeriCCa returns to the Alley with a wildly irreverent look at the people that call America home. Actors Ric Salinas, Richard Montoyo, and Herbert Sigüenza take over the Hubbard Stage until January 29th with a show that is bound to have you laughing and crying, sometimes at the same time. Montoyo brought me up-to-date on all things clashing in AmeriCCa.

First off, great show and welcome back to Houston. Thanks for taking the time to speak with the Houston dance community about your work. You are all beautiful and expressive movers. What kind of movement training is necessary for your work?
RM: As you know, we're not "dancers" but we are lovers of movement. We have had limited formal training but have worked with knowledgeable directors and choreographers. Much of what we do is instinctive and depends on the demands of each character.

I am curious about your process of collecting material. For example, in the “Mohammad” piece the studied and economic quality of his gestures seemed important. How did that character come about?
RM: We created Mohammed in the first production and watched another actor do the role. I changed the character giving him economical movement; every move has intent and purpose. I visited Mosques in Detroit; I wanted the lighting to be spare, revealing a private moment. Audiences are watching a Muslim man pray for the first time, it should feel private. It’s a hell of a way to start off a show in post 9/11 America, but there is no other way to start this show.

The lighting is harsh at first and so is the reaction to the character most nights. The audience has to come to him, or at the very least meet him halfway. This goes against the "good Arab" approach I think most actors/designers would go for. We work in close concert with designers, in this case the Alley's Clint Allen, who really feels the dignity we are endeavoring to give each character.

There are many details that make each vignette come alive. The Jewish guy reminded me of my uncle (so what if my uncle is Italian). His posture and the annoying habit of grapping the microphone made him so authentic. How did you develop this character?
RM: I actually picked a piece of blond hair off Herbert last night in the scene. It felt within my character, like an uncle or aunt who is always fixing and prodding the kids out of love. It’s fun too, to be in the character and do stuff like that. I actually heard Greg Boyd laugh out loud.

The Philippino man waving his miniature American Flag fills the theater. Talk about the details that color in the character.
RM: Again, a wonderful sparse choice by Ric Salinas caught in the slow coming down of Clint's lights. We don't do a lot of flag waving in the show but when we do we try to make it count.

Did you worry at all about the anti-Bush message in Bush country? You sure didn't look worried. (I was the one in hysterical convulsions over the FEMA/MENSA joke.)
RM: It’s a great deal of fun; almost everybody is questioning things now.

The Katrina material seemed very fresh, especially for us compassionately fatigued Houstonians. Why did you feel this was an important piece to add for the Houston run?
RM: How could we avoid it? Perhaps its risky, but some of what you saw we have been doing for 22 years, and we have to put new stuff out. We could have done last year’s show but artists must swim in the swollen rivers.

Did Ric Salinas hang out in Salsa clubs to be able to differentiate country of origin by the way one salsas?
RM: Ric is a salsa expert and aficionado from the clubs of the Bay Area. His dance partners at parties in LA have included Salma Hayek and J Lo, but not at the same time since they hate each other. He ripped his hamstring the night before. The fact that he got through the show on opening night took great skill, concentration, and a few meds. It’s a testament to him being a trooper and a pro.

The prison piece didn't move at all for obvious reasons. How did you come upon such spare staging for that piece?
RM: That was a directed piece. We added the confining light idea with Clint. This should be a private moment from men we don't hear from everyday. These guys are breaking it down; we must listen and turn off Fox News to get to the core of the Black man.

I understand you are tackling the legend of Zorro next, a larger-than-life, and uber-physical superhero. What kind of research, and/or training, will you be doing for that piece?
RM: Fencing, dance, climbing and more. Our training begins here in Houston. Come see the reading on Monday!

The message you send out is that we are all home, regardless of where we are from. That's a mighty unified message for some terribly divided times. Any thoughts?
RM: You got it.

Learn more at

Culture Clash in AmeriCCa continues through January 29th on the Hubbard Stage at the Alley Theatre. Visit or call 713/228-8421. A free reading of Zorro in Hell takes place on Monday at the Alley, January 16th at 7pm.